Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2017 Fund Drive.

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Compiling/computing known lexicons by age/education
Question: One of my acquaintances has a PhD in Linguistics; however, he's not available to answer my questions at this time. How do linguists (and others?) find out how many words different groups (distinguished by age and education) know? Thank you! Sincerely and respectfully, Dave Tozier
Reply: As Professor Sampson points out, there are many methods for estimating the size of lexicon across an age range or within educational progress ranks, not a single well- standardized method. Notice also that some methods may ask for open-ended responses (such as Sampson's suggested "provide a definition"), where others ask for responses from a closed set ("which of the following four words is a synonym for ...."). From other research on cognition and psycholinguistics, we know that recognition is easier than recall. In addition you've got a 25% chance of being correct on a closed set of 4 possible responses, whereas an open-ended answer has no guarantee of success - a much higher bar, if you will - a more restrictive measure. In what context did you see some estimate for size of lexicon? Did you ask yourself whether it was a comparable estimate to another, perhaps looking at quite a different age group or otherwise distinct population? There may be 2 or more different methods in use. Notice also that reading vocabulary may be quite different from speaking vocabulary. Surely there are many terms that you feel comfortable meeting on the printed page which you might never use in your own speech or writing.
Reply From: Nancy J. Frishberg      click here to access email
Date: 11-Jan-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Compiling/computing known lexicons by age/education    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (11-Jan-2013)
  2. Re: Compiling/computing known lexicons by age/education    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (11-Jan-2013)

Back to Most Recent Questions